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Saracens have their backs to the wall with Wray's legacy at stake logo 09/11/2019 Daniel Schofield
a man holding a sign posing for the camera: Nigel Wray, the owner of Saracens © 2012 Getty Images Nigel Wray, the owner of Saracens

On a freezing November night in 1995, around 350 people crammed into Saracens' rickety clubhouse at Bramley Road for an extraordinary general meeting.

With professionalism fast approaching, the club were desperately searching for investment. They had approached the richest man in the world, the Sultan of Brunei, before alighting on local millionaire Nigel Wray, who was sponsoring his former team Old Millhillians.

They wrote to him asking whether he would be interested in extending his largesse to them. Wray replied that he would not sponsor them, but he was prepared to buy the club. Saracens' assets were then valued at less than £100,000, but he was prepared to put in £2 million for a 49 per cent stake.

It was this investment that was put to the EGM. Many were suspicious. They loved their ramshackle club and feared change. Still, the motion passed. For better and for worse, no rugby club's history has been so entwined with a single individual as that of Saracens and Wray.

Soon after his takeover, Wray said: "In my experience, philanthropic gestures don't work. There is no bottomless pocket here.

"We've worked out how much was needed, now the club has to generate money itself. Saracens has to become a commercially successful business."

He has since spent at least £50m on the club. It was reported soon after the EGM that Wray "would be able to add a further dimension to his input, by finding employment for players in one of his many companies or directing them to one of his business contacts".

It is such extra-curricular commercial arrangements struck with England players Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Richard Wigglesworth, Billy and Mako Vunipola that have landed Saracens with a 35-point deduction and £5.36m fine.

Such a devastating punishment, subject to review, threatens Wray's whole legacy.

Their chances of winning their challenge are slim. The next stage would be to challenge the decision in the High Court. Legal experts also doubt their chances given Saracens willingly signed up to the salary cap regulations that they would be seeking to overthrow.

So, what next? Today, a trip to Gloucester and a stadium which will be packed to the rafters and not awash with sympathy.

"We're probably not the lucky ones to be in the week they've got that news, because now they're going to be backs-against-the-wall and they're probably going to see this weekend as a must-win game," said Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann of a clash between third and fourth.

Like every other Saracens game this season, however, it is likely to feel far more important than that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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